The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has issued new exposure limits and workplace regulations for industries that work with beryllium, due to serious and potentially life threatening risks associated with exposure to the substance.
The final rule is designed to reduce the risk of fatal chronic beryllium disease and lung cancer among workers, with the new standards applying to general industry, construction and shipyard workers.
Beryllium is used in metal and ceramic production, non-ferrous foundries, fabrication of beryllium alloy products, electronics manufacturing, the nuclear energy sector and laboratories that work with nuclear materials. It is a known cause of cancer and other fatal disease, such as CBD. When inhaled at even very low levels it can be fatal.
OSHA’s new regulation reduces the permissible exposure limit for beryllium to 0.2 micrograms per cubic meter of air over 8-hours and establishes new short term exposure limits of 2.0 micrograms per cubic meter of air, over a 15-minute sampling period.
The regulation also calls on employers to protect workers through the use of engineering and other controls, like personal protective clothing and protective equipment. It requires ventilation or an enclosure to limit beryllium exposure. It also calls for employers to provide respirators when controls are unable to limit beryllium exposure adequately. The new rule limits worker access to high-exposure areas, calls on employers to develop written exposure control plans, and requires worker training on beryllium hazards.
The rule also calls on employers to offer medical exams to monitor exposed workers and offer medical removal protection benefits to those with beryllium-related disease.
The guidelines are projected to provide net benefits of $561 million annually. OSHA also estimates the new rule will save 94 lives each year from beryllium-related diseases and prevent 46 new cases of chronic beryllium disease (CBD) each year. CBD is an incurable lung disease that scars the lungs, eventually killing those affected.
The new rule replaces regulations that were put in place 40 years ago and will take effect March 10, 2017. Employers have one year to comply with the requirements and up to three years to implement other aspects of the safety provisions.
More than 62,000 workers are exposed to beryllium each year and nearly 12,000 construction and shipyard workers conduct abrasive blasting using slags that contain beryllium.
Public Citizen, a consumer watchdog group, applauded the move, but was critical that it took so long for OSHA to implement protective provisions. The group issued a petition calling for changes to the regulations and worker protections more than 15 years ago.
“While we are frustrated that the rule has taken so long to complete, we commend OSHA for issuing this lifesaving rule,” Dr. Sammy Almashat, a researcher with Public Citizen’s Health Research Group, said in a January 6 press release. “Tens of thousands of workers will finally have the protections that they have lacked for far too much time.”